7th century Anglo-Saxon gold belt buckle with discreet niello accents, from Sutton Hoo.
Diptych with Nativity and Adoration, silver and niello, engraved and gilded, copper alloy frame, Paris, c. 1500, The Cloisters
"Minden Cross" in niello technique, appr. AD 1070 or 1120

Niello is a black mixture of copper, silver, and lead sulphides, used as an inlay on engraved or etched metal. It can be used for filling in designs cut from metal. The Egyptians are credited with originating niello decoration, which spread throughout Europe during the late Iron Age[1] and is common in Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and other types of Early Medieval jewellery.


Renaissance niello

The goldsmiths of Florence in the middle of the 15th century ornamented their works by means of engraving the metal with a burin, after which they filled up the hollows produced by the burin with a black enamel-like compound made of silver, lead and sulphur. The resulting design, called a niello, was of much higher contrast and thus much more visible.

Kievan Rus

During the 10th to 13th century AD, Kievan Rus craftsmen possessed a high degree of skill in jewelry making. John Tsetses, a 12th century Byzantine writer, praised the work of Kievan Rus artisans and likened their work to the creations of Daedalus, the highly skilled craftsman of Greek Mythology.

Niello was used on a variety of objects including sword hilts, chalices, plates, horns, adornment for horses, and most prolifically, jewelry for women: necklaces, bracelets, rings, torques, pendants, buttons, belt buckles, headdresses, etc.

The Kievan Rus technique for niello application was first shaping silver or gold by repoussé work, embossing, and casting. They would raise objects in high relief and fill the background with niello using a mixture of red copper, lead, silver, potash, borax, sulphur which was liquefied and poured into concave surfaces before being fired in a furnace. The heat of the furnace would blacken the niello and make the other ornamentation stand out more vividly.

Nielloed items were mass produced using molds that still survive today and were traded with Greeks, the Byzantine Empire, and other peoples that traded along the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks.

During the Mongol invasion from 1237 to 1240 AD, nearly all of Kievan Rus was overrun. Settlements and workshops were burned and razed and most of the craftsmen and artisans were killed. Afterwards, skill in niello and cloisonné enamel diminished greatly.

The Ukrainian Museum of Historic Treasures, located in Kiev, has a large collection of nielloed items mostly recovered from tombs found throughout Ukraine.[2]

Thai jewelry

Nielloware jewelry and related items from Thailand were popular gifts from American soldiers taking "R&R" in Thailand to their girlfriends/wives back home from the 1930s to the 1970s. Most of it was completely handmade jewelry.

The technique is as follows: The artisan would carve a particular character or pattern into the silver, leaving the figure raised by carving out the "background". He would then use the niello inlay to fill in the "background". After being baked in an open fire, the alloy would harden. It would then be sanded smooth and buffed. Finally, a silver artisan would add minute details by hand. Filigree was often used for additional ornamentation. Nielloware is classified as only being black and silver colored. Other colored jewelry originating during this time uses a different technique and is not considered niello.

Many of the characters shown in nielloware are characters originally found in the Hindu legend Ramayana. The Thai version is called Ramakien. Important Thai cultural symbols were also frequently used. Collecting Thai jewelry (correctly known as Siam Silver jewelry) is a growing hobby, with many jewelry enthusiasts.[3] People try to collect all the characters and deities in the Siam jewelry range, and popular figures include:

1. Mekkala(h), the Goddess of Lightning - shown with lightning bolts coming from her hand. A well known figure in Thai culture. This is by far the most common character depicted in Siam jewellery, and is the theme you normally see in Siam jewellery.

2. Ramasoon, the God of Thunder - shown with an axe in his hand. Often shown with Mekkala.

3. Nang Fa, the Fairy of Happiness - looks like she is dropping stardust from her hand to the floor.

4. Matcha, the Mermaid Queen - has a fish/mermaid tail instead of legs. Sometimes shown with Hanuman.

5. Hanuman, King of Monkeys - a clothed monkey holding a sword. Sometimes shown with Matcha. This is due to a Ramayan tale of Hanuman being sent by Prince Rama to build a bridge over Queen Matcha's Sea Kingdom, but the Monkey King falls in love and seduces her instead.

6. Thepanom, Thai/ Siamese Guardian Angel type deity - sits devoutly with hands in prayer position, with a flame like motiff behind the head. Not from Ramayana.

7. Erewan, Three Headed Elephant - three conjoined elephants heads, two looking either way, on looking to front, all on a pedestal.

8. Chedi Klang Nam, The Floating Pagoda - fancy pagoda building floating on water.

9. Suphanahongse, The Royal Barge - fancy long boat floating on water.

10. Rama, (Prince/ Lord) - depicted with a bow and arrow.

11. Dancing Angel - depicted with a long curved garland (looks like rope) held behind the back. Were warriors who were magically turned into angels (Ramayana).

12. Garuda (Garunda) - a winged mythical creature - a cross between human and eagle and is found in both Hindu and Buddists mythology. It forms part of the national symbol of Thailand and is an emblem of the King of Thailand.

13. Sword dancer - figure holding up two swords. Using a sword in both hands is a method commonly used some Thai martial arts and in many traditional dances.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Solberg, S., with reference. (2003) Jernalderen I Norge, page 158. Oslo, Norway: J.W. Cappelens Forlag,
  2. ^ Ganina, O. (1974) The Kiev museum of historic treasures. (A. Bilenko, Trans.). Kiev, Ukraine: Mistetstvo Publishers.
  3. ^
  4. ^

Further reading

Ganina, O. (1974), The Kiev museum of historic treasures (A. Bilenko, Trans.). Kiev, Ukraine: Mistetstvo Publishers.

Dittell, C. (2009), Overview of Siam Sterling Nielloware' ' Privately Published.

Untracht,Oppi Metal techniques For Craftsmen,New York 1968.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Niello — Ni*el lo, n. [It. niello, LL. nigellum a black of blackish enamel, fr. L. nigellus, dim. of niger black. See {Negro}, and cf. {Anneal}.] 1. A metallic alloy of a deep black color. [1913 Webster] 2. The art, process, or method of decorating metal… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • niello — [nē el′ō] n. pl. nielli [nē el′ē] or niellos [It < VL * nigellum < L nigellus, somewhat black, dark < niger, black] 1. any of a number of alloys of sulfur with silver, lead, copper, etc., characterized by a deep black color and used to… …   English World dictionary

  • Niëllo — (ital., v. lat. nigellus, schwärzlich), Verzierung auf Silber, seltener auf Gold, in neuerer Zeit auch auf Kupfer, Bronze, Zinn oder einer weißen Legierung, besteht in eingravierten oder durch Stahlplatten eingepreßten, mit einer schwarzen… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Niello — Niello, eine Verzierung silberner oder goldener Gegenstände durch einen schwarzen Schmelz; vgl. Goldarbeiten, Bd. 4, S. 590 …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

  • Niéllo — (ital., vom lat. nigellum), eine dunkle, aus zusammengeschmolzenem Silber, Kupfer, Blei, Schwefel und Borax gemischte Masse, verwertet zur Ausfüllung von in Gold und Silberplatten gravierten Verzierungen (Nielloarbeiten). Die Kunst des… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • niello — /ni ɛl:o/ s.m. [lat. nigellus, agg., dim. di niger nero ]. (artist.) [tecnica orafa consistente nel riempire i solchi di una incisione a bulino su argento o oro con un composto colorato] ▶◀ damaschinatura, niellatura …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • niello — (izg. niȅlo) m DEFINICIJA u zlatarstvu, tehnika ukrašavanja metalnih, napose srebrnih predmeta tamnim, gotovo crnim ornamentalnim motivima postupkom koji je sličan emajliranju, poznatim već u starim civilizacijama Bliskog istoka, u antičkoj… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • niello — niellist, n. /nee el oh/, n., pl. nielli / el ee/, v., nielloed, nielloing. n. 1. a black metallic substance, consisting of silver, copper, lead, and sulfur, with which an incised design or ground is filled to produce an ornamental effect on… …   Universalium

  • Niello — Lendenschurz des Mindener Kreuzes (1070 oder 1120 entstanden) in Niello Technik. Niello (Niëllo, ital., v. lat. nigellus, schwärzlich) auch Blachmal („Schwarzfleck“ = die durchschwefelte Silberschlacke) oder Tula genannt, nach der russischen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Niello — Ni|ẹl|lo 〈n.; s, s od. ẹl|len od. ẹl|li〉 Verzierung von metallenen, bes. silbernen Gegenständen durch eingeritzte, mit schwarzem Schmelz ausgefüllte Zeichnungen; Sy Niellierarbeit (2) [ital.] * * * Ni|ẹl|lo, das; [s], s u. …len, bei… …   Universal-Lexikon

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